A woodland treasure hunt

Random acts of wildness are not something I’m really good at. Oh, I’m all about being in the wild, and my attention is easily diverted by any random thing when outside. Mushroom! Snake! Bat! But my forays beyond my yard tend to be…planned. Dog. Leash. Water for me. Water for dog. Destination selection. Coordinating friends, who all love the idea of wilding away, but, but, but something else is almost always going on. Meanwhile, nature carries on, heedless of my attention or lack thereof. Which is good…

The bloodroot leaves are bigger than my hand.

…because their are treasures to be found. The bloodroot leaves have grown bigger than my hand, and the verdant green provides a backdrop for some of Iowa’s rare treasures.

When I was a kid, I loved the smooth, perfect swells of the orchid blossoms, the way they could grow in the air, and the way they needed perpetual heat and humidity year round. Despite sweltering Midwestern summers, the frigid winters made the landscape inhospitable. I would repeatedly buy ones that “could” live indoors, and I would take them home, where they would never flower and gradually die.

But I was oh-so-wrong about one thing. There are actually 32 species of orchid that live in Iowa, and a woodland treasure hunt this month at the Indian Creek Nature Center revealed two.

Showy orchis
Showy orchis
This is the more rare yellow lady slipper. Because of its beauty, people are tempted to dig them and take them home. Because of their strong underground mycorrhizal associations, they seldom survive transplant-leaving a hole in the woods they came from, as well as a hole in the receiving garden.
Yellow lady slipper

The yellow lady slipper is far more rare than the showy orchis. Because of their beauty, people are tempted to dig them and take them home. Because of their strong underground mycorrhizal associations, they seldom survive transplant-leaving a hole in the woods they came from, as well as a hole in the receiving garden. Not quite The Orchid Thief, but I only found one lady slipper on my walk.  The beautiful rare delicacy of these flowers reminds me that if I just go outside, nature will provide the random wildness.

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30 Days Wild

 

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30 Days Wild

Being in Iowa in the springtime is being immersed in a million shades of green unfurling around you.

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Nitro and I started and ended the 30×30 Nature Challenge in the hammock-it has gotten us pumped up about 30 Days Wild.

For 30 Days Wild, engage in a random act of wildness every day with us-you’re only limited by your imagination.

 

Take a walk in the woods, and discover what's blooming in your backyard.
We are starting the 30 Days Wild with a full moon walk, as the fireflies are beginning to dance in the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

Return of the hummingbirds

The ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned. I haven’t seen one yet, but I’ve been keeping a casual eye on http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html to track their migration north, and they have definitely been spotted in this area over the past few days.

That means it’s time to put up the hummingbird feeder. The hummingbirds will stick around for the summer and find plenty to feed on without our help. Putting out the feeder gives us an opportunity to watch their aerial acrobatics up close on a regular basis. They have distinct personalities, and don’t hesitate to find us in the yard and complain loudly if we don’t keep sugar water in the feeder. We have columbines planted for them as well, but the flowers haven’t quite started to bloom yet.

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By Gabrielle Anderson, from the pages of Hunting Red.

 

 

Poison Ivy :(

My challenge in loving nature  isn’t usually the “getting outside” part, its avoiding the poison ivy that thrives in the woods. Poison ivy is beautiful, especially in the spring and fall, but the oil causes my skin to break out in open, weeping, ever-expanding, never-healing sores, which causes me to go to the doctor for prednisone, which wreaks havoc on my immune system. Last summer, I  avoided the doctor/prednisone, and I am going to do my best again this summer.

Step 1. Identify.

I nearly walked into this poison ivy branch, hanging face-high from a tree.
The fine hairs on the main vine gave it away.
The fine hairs on the main vine gave it away.

Step 2. Avoid.

The young leaves in the spring are a deep red.
The young leaves in the spring are a deep red.
Step 3. Wash thoroughly, assuming avoidance wasn’t good enough. Always a good idea after playing outside, because it provides an opportunity for a thorough tick check.
If I was in the general vicinity of poison ivy, I just use soap and water. If Im fairly sure I actually contacted the plant, I use Goop first, which binds with the oil.
If I was in the general vicinity of poison ivy, I just use soap and water. If I’m fairly sure I actually contacted the plant, I use Goop first, which binds with the oil.
Step 4. At the first sign of breakout, start drinking copious amounts of tea made from reishi mushrooms, stinging nettle leaves, and budding goldenrod flowers. The challenge is on-we’ll see how this season goes!
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The stinging nettle leaves that emerged mid-April are getting too big too harvest, but there are young plants still coming up around the edges of the nettle patches.

Challenges to Getting Outdoors Daily

Is getting out into nature daily a challenge?

Or do you need a challenge to get out daily into nature?

Getting out into Nature a challenge? {PocketMousePublishing.com}Tomorrow is May 1.  Nothing like a new month to take on a new challenge.  And MAYbe this is your month.  May is spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere — not too hot, not too cold, just right for getting outside and getting a daily dose of nature time!

But…maybe you’re feeling too busy.  Or maybe you’ve had a nature walk go wrong.  Or maybe you can’t seem to remember a single benefit to time outdoors when the kids beg for just 30 more minutes in Minecraft. Or is that only at my house?

Getting outside, every day, can be a challenge — so here are 3 challenges to get you there:

1. Starting May 1, the David Suzuki Foundation has a 30×30 challenge.  That’s 30 minutes outdoors for 30 days.  Do you have 30 minutes?  Just 30 out of 1440 a day — about 2% of your time.

100 Trees, 100 Chances to Get Outside! Free Worksheet Download

2. Want something less time-bound? Wilder Child offers a chart called 100 Trees, 100 Chances in the fantastic article 6 Ways to Get Your Kids Outside (When They Don’t Want to Go).  Color a tree every time you go outdoors and watch your forest grow!

3. Is a purposeful, structured  time more your style?  Back in 2008, the Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge began — and is still going.  Years of challenges to get you started and keep you outside!

Do you know of another challenge that encourages getting outside regularly? Share it in the comments! Or tweet to @pocketmousepub and let us know!

And after you’ve been outside, check out the Nature Chills Challenge to share what you’ve discovered!

I just read a 2010 study that found kids ages 8-18 spent 7 hours and 38 minutes in front of a screen daily, about 27% of their day.  Has technology use gone up or down at your house in the last 5 years?

Mushroom Trees

For National Arbor Day, I decided to plant some “mushroom trees.” I have healthy, mature oaks. I have young northern pecans, Kentucky coffeetrees, and Ohio buckeyes. I also have, typical of Iowa’s woodlands, forest areas so overgrown that trees need to be removed, not planted. And, while I continue to work on improving the diversity of the woodlands, planting a typical tree for National Arbor Day seemed counter-productive this year.
Shiitake “plug spawn”. Dowels inoculated with mycelium

Dying trees are critical for the health of a forest. They provide habitat for cavity nesting birds, screech owls, bluebirds, and wood ducks. They serve as roosts for bats and feeding stations for insect-eating birds. A dead snag hosts a tremendous variety of decomposers, from fungi to ants, which gradually break down the hard wood into soft, rich organic matter in which new life can grow.

Mycelium rapidly expanding around the dowel
I thought deliberately turning a dead log into a mushroom tree would be a fun way to celebrate the spirit of National Arbor Day, without adding a tree where it shouldn’t belong. It will celebrate that the value of a tree extends far beyond the life span of the tree. As a benefit, I will
1) expand my knowledge of mushrooms, and give me a close up, regular look at the decomposition process
2) provide me with something healthy and tasty to eat
3) provide organic material, when the tree is completely broken down.
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Drilling the holes in the oak limb, a casualty of a recent wind storm

In the past, I’ve grown portabella mushrooms in a box in the house, and thought this would not be too much more difficult. And then, when I got my shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms from Fungi Perfecti…I realized that it may not be more difficult, but it is certainly a bit more specific and detailed.

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Tapping the plug snugly into the tree.

I’ll be sharing pictures as the mushrooms grow!  Have you ever grown your own mushrooms?

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Sealing the plug into the tree with a bit of melted beeswax. There are definitely more efficient means of melting beeswax than a torch (the directions recommend melting the wax in a pot, and painting it on the plug). Now, we wait!

Earth Day Adventures: rainbows and wildflowers

This is a magical season in the forest, as the spring ephemerals are just beginning to bloom. When we think of forest, our minds immediately go to the trees. Right now, with the trees in various stages of budding out, there is not a leaf to be seen. But there is a whole rainbow of color to be found.

Cottonwood tree inflorescence, brought down in a windstorm (Red).
OK, I havent seen any orange butterflies yet, but these fun chairs are sitting outside ICNCs Butterfly Hoop House, beckoning a visit. If you want to see flying orange, try setting out a half an orange on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract Baltimore Orioles.
OK, I haven’t seen any orange butterflies yet, but these fun chairs are sitting outside Indian Creek Nature Center’s Butterfly Hoop House, beckoning a visit. Or…
...set 1/2 an orange out on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract the Baltimore Oriole. This one, created by artist Brenna OHara, is a permanent resident along ICNCs woodland trail orange).
…set 1/2 an orange out on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract the Baltimore Oriole. This one, painted by artist Brenna O’Hara, is a permanent resident along ICNC’s woodland trail (Orange).

Lots of life is beginning to emerge from the ground.  Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull is a great resource to put in your backpack before setting out. If that’s too big, try the laminated Woodland in Your Pocket pamphlet. Finding flowers is fun: knowing what you’re looking at is thrilling.

Bloodroots are one of the first spring ephemerals to explode in the spring (Yellow).

Delicate, small forbs take advantage of all of that sunlight streaming through the bare branches to send up their own leaves, flower, and reproduce.

Wild Ginger is just beginning to peek out, with soft folded leaves (Green). Open your copy of Hunting Red to preview the ginger in bloom.
A blue jay was here. As the feathers of most birds are protected, take pictures, not the feathers (Blue).

To help identify feathers you find, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s free online Feather Atlas.

These bluebells have not fully opened, but show some of the great diversity of color the species has Indigo)
These bluebell flowers have not fully opened, but show some of the great diversity of color within the species (Indigo).
The petals of the wild violet are edible, and are a beautiful edition to any salad Violet).
The petals of the wild violet are edible, and are a beautiful edition to any salad (Violet).

Spend Earth Day outside, exploring what is happening with the earth as spring surrounds us in a rainbow of color. What colors will you find?